My Grandma called it Decoration Day. In a small town such as ours it was festive. Little girls wore their Easter dresses and the men wore their uniforms and the band played. The VFW color guard was at the cemetery. A 21-gun salute and “Taps” were solomnly observed before the children – we – were allowed wander about, looking for graves with the tiny flags which designated veterans were laid there.
My grandmother and mother filled mason jars with peony blossoms. These were carefully transported to the cemetery and my sisters and I would place them on the graves of family members. Mama and Grandma would introduce us: There is the child who, long ago, was accidentally scalded with hot water. There is the aunt who died of “lock-jaw”. (This one was particularly scary to me.) As we placed the jars overflowing with peonies, we heard the family stories and legends.
My grandmother’s good Sunday dress, navy with a flower print, whipped around her knees in the Kansas wind. Her two cheeks wore spots of pink rouge from the tiny brass compact in her “pocketbook”. My mother handed out the bouquets, reminded us not to get in the mud and flicking away the ants that always darted through the peony petals.
My sisters and I gathered the empty brass shells from the gun salute. On the way home, if we held them out the windows of the car, the wind blowing across the open tops would make them whistle.
Today the scent of peonies is wafting through my open window. I’ve read that the olfactory nerves are connected to our memories. A scent can transport us to another time. Funny. I haven’t thought about my Grandma’s Sunday dress in a very long time.